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Albums of the Year 2018: The Gloaming - Live at the NCH | reviews, news & interviews

Albums of the Year 2018: The Gloaming - Live at the NCH

Albums of the Year 2018: The Gloaming - Live at the NCH

Pushing back the boundaries of contemporary folk

The Irish American supergroup was only meant to be a one-off, but the fervour of their audiences’ passion for the music – across two studio albums from Real World, and some magnificent concerts in the UK, Ireland and the US – has given The Gloaming the crown when it comes to radically reinterpreting and performing traditional folk.

There is no other group like them, and few with the sheer heft of brilliance displayed by fiddler Martin Hayes, viola/hardanger player Caoimhín Ó Raghallaigh, sean nos singer Iarla Ó Lionáird, American pianist Thomas Bartlett and guitarist Dennis Cahill.

Their live album, produced by Bartlett, was drawn from two years’ of concerts at Dublin’s National Concert Hall, and was a brilliant showcase for Irish traditional music guided by the spirits of minimalism, jazz and contemporary classical, fusing form and feeling with dazzling improvisations that transformed tunes like “The Sailor’s Bonnet” into huge and hugely enthralling explorations.

But Martin Hayes and co are not alone when it comes to recalibrating the folk tradition as a living, breathing, shape-shifting contemporary medium. In the UK, bands like Leveret – comprising three of England’s finest players in fiddler Sam Sweeney, English concertina player Rob Harbron and the melodeon of Andy Cutting – have reinvigorated the highly occulted English tune-making tradition.

Leveret’s first two albums drew from the 17th-century Playford’s Dancing Master – once sold on the steps of St Pauls – to create a strikingly new English instrumental music. Their latest, Inventions, was released at the end of last year and toured throughout much of this, and it saw them drawing from their own songbooks rather than ancient tunes, in the process creating a new kind of instrumental folk music that is symmetric, systems-like in its structures. As folk music, it was more contemporary build than 17th-century thatch, and one that could just as easily find its home on a classical platform.

Sam Sweeney finished off this year by launching his debut album, The Unfinished Violin, for Island Records. It’s a coda, of sorts, to an acclaimed touring show, Made in the Great War, a mix of music and story that had as its heroes a violin made by a music hall performer in Leeds who was later killed in the battle of Messines. Recovered by Sweeney from an Oxford violin shop, and played on innumerable gigs, that World War One fiddle remains the focus of his debut solo album, whose music is a radical and beautiful re-imagining of songs, tunes and marches associated with the Great War, ones that would have been heard and performed by the men in the trenches.

In this difficult, disorderly year marking the centenary of that terrible slaughter, Sweeney’s is a music that stands out from any crowd, like a trumpeter playing The Last Post. 

Two More Essential Albums from 2018

Karine Polwart – Laws of Motion (Hudson Records)

Richard Thompson – 13 Rivers (Proper)

Gig of the Year

Rolling Stones, Twickenham  

Track of the Year

 Marianne Faithfull, "They Come By Night", from Negative Capability


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